After living in an urban Chicago row house, Suzanne and Kevin Kickhaefer were ready for a house on a big, tree-filled yard to share with their two children.
In 2010, Kevin’s job transfer sent them house hunting in the Twin Cities, where they discovered Deephaven, known for its charm, its old-fashioned general store and its proximity to Lake Minnetonka.
While they were excited to put down new roots, the Kickhaefers weren’t as sure about the house that they were looking at: a 1980s contemporary-style ranch.
Its location — high on a wooded bluff — was perfect. It appeared to be solidly built and with four bedrooms and four bathrooms, it offered plenty of space. And the house was filled with light from a band of clerestory windows and a wall of glass that looked out onto the back yard.
But (and there were several “buts”), there was a turret-like structure complete with a marble-and-brass bar that reminded Suzanne of “bad Miami Vice” style. Many of the walls were accented with quirky mosaic tile designs. And while the main living area was open, the rest of the rooms were closed off.
“It was very ’80s, extremely outdated and needed a lot of work,” said Suzanne. “But it had great light and the setting felt like you were up in a treehouse.”
It took three visits to the house before Suzanne persuaded Kevin that it would be feasible to buy the house (which had long been on the market) and do a whole-house renovation.
“I knew we could create a welcoming, vibrant space for our family that would have our energy and style,” said Suzanne, an interior designer and owner of Kick Interiors.
“She had vision and I trusted her,” added Kevin.
To update the house, the Kickhaefers enlisted architect Tim Alt of ALTUS Architecture in Minneapolis and Streeter and Associates as the contractor.
Alt’s plan involved “reimagining the existing spaces and capitalizing on the home’s strengths,” including the windows, vaulted ceilings and the modern aesthetic. He also planned to make the house livable without adding on. “The family would be able to live smarter within the same footprint,” he said.
Playing to form
Among the first things to go was the turret, which was demolished. Then the interior was completely gutted, although the two-sided fireplace was left intact because it was the focal point of the house. It was rebuilt as a sleek, white pillar accented with a slender mantel.
“It’s simple and sculptural,” said Suzanne. “Its function is to define and warm the family rooms.”
That’s correct — rooms with an “s.” The open living area on the main floor is so large that there’s enough space for two sunken family rooms, each with its own identity.
The more formal of the spaces, which is tailored to adult conversation, is anchored by a massive collage of recycled billboard art (“my taste is a little edgy,” explained Suzanne).
For the casual, kid-romping room, Suzanne found a multifunctional modular sofa that can be moved to face the TV or a view of the back yard.
To emphasize those views, rather than replace the windows themselves, Alt replaced the wide oak trim and mullions with slim wood trim painted white. He also brought down the scale of vaulted ceilings and added warmth to the family rooms by focusing on the contrast of materials, such as pairing dark-stained hardwood floors and chunky built-in bookcases.
Down the hallway, the redesigned master bedroom boasts an open dressing room, and an artsy bathroom that marries energizing black and white tile in a chevron pattern with white and gray marble on the vanity. In the master bathroom, Alt also dropped the vaulted ceiling and added a skylight.
‘Calm and energetic’
Alt turned the kitchen, which had been in an inefficient trapezoid shape, into a modern work space, without the traditional upper cabinets that would block sightlines. Suzanne chose a quiet palette of gray-veined marble and high-gloss white cabinets accented by stainless steel appliances. To create “warm textural interest,” she also paneled one side of the peninsula with steel.
Suzanne didn’t want the peninsula to serve as a breakfast bar. “I like us to look at each other when we’re eating,” she said, so she didn’t line the bar with chairs. Instead, the family uses a nearby kitchen table for everyday meals.
The top-to-bottom renovation took nearly a year to complete. But now, “the character is different but the volume is the same,” said Alt. “It illustrates how old spaces can be made new without overworking the design.”
For Suzanne, the new, cohesive home is a jewel of modern architecture while being comfortable for the family. “This house expresses who we are,” she said. “It’s energetic and calming at the same time.”
For her husband it’s even better: it’s home.
“When I drive through the neighborhood, I can see our house on the bluff,” said Kevin. “When I walk in, my stress level drops.”